WoeserIn a formal ceremony in the US State Department today, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry presented the 2013 International Women of Courage Award in absentia to Tsering Woeser, the Tibetan writer, blogger and activist.

Tencho Gyatso, representing the International Campaign for Tibet at the award ceremony, said, “This award is more than an acknowledgment of Woeser’s courageous work; it is also a recognition of the risks that so many Tibetans take each day to be heard. Today, Tibetans everywhere will celebrate Woeser’s courage and the decision of the United States to stand with her. ”

Woeser, under house arrest in Beijing, was unable to accept the award in person. However, both Radio Free Asia and Voice of America Tibetan Services have been successful in reaching her by phone. Woeser described increased restrictions on her movements since the award was announced on Monday, March 4, and explained that she has been denied a passport by the Chinese government. “The U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing tried hard, but China would not issue me a passport…I am not the only person. Many Tibetans can’t get a passport to travel abroad…I have never been overseas to receive any award,” she told RFA.

Since 2007, the International Women of Courage Award has been presented in recognition of women around the globe who have demonstrated courage and leadership, often at great personal risk, to promote justice and rights. Tsering Woeser is among ten awardees this year.

“I don’t think of this as an award for myself only,” Woeser told VOA. “It is an expression of international and the United States awareness of the current situation in Tibet. I am just a writer who writes information about Tibet. And I am grateful to all my readers and to the United States for this award. … I thank Tibetans outside and inside for congratulating me. There have been over one hundred Tibetan self-immolators, and I want to give this award to them – I say this with great emotion and from my heart.” (ICT translation from Tibetan)

In her remarks, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “This is not an honor bestowed on a few but a call for action to all of us.” “These honorees … have shown the potential to stand up and demand action for the next generation.” “With every blog post these women have inspired millions,” she added.

Secretary John Kerry, in his reference to Woeser, said, “For her courageous stand to improve human rights conditions in Tibet . . .for giving eloquent voice to those who otherwise will not be heard. . .this award was given to Tsering Woeser.”

Todd Stein, ICT Director of Government Relations, who also attended the award ceremony, reacted to the policy implications of the award presentation to Woeser. “It is especially gratifying to witness this high-level and public expression of the U.S. commitment to the Tibetan struggle for rights and dignity. The U.S. government smartly encapsulates many of its concerns with China in this award: limits on free expression, cyber censorship, discrimination against non-Chinese populations. The effort by Chinese authorities to intimidate and silence Woeser is as predictable as it is a tribute to her courage and conviction to tell the true Tibet story, as recognized here today,” Mr. Stein said.

(Note: full statements by the participants will be available soon on www.state.gov)